An Amazon employee from the Staten Island, New York warehouse has died after contracting COVID-19 — the coronavirus. According to a report by The Verge, Amazon made the announcement on Tuesday, confirming that this was the fifth worker from the company to die from this pandemic. So far, the employee's name has not been released.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of an associate at our site in Staten Island, New York. His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues," read a statement from an Amazon spokesperson. The employee was reportedly a man and was in his late 60s. Two other Amazon warehouse workers from California have died of COVID-19, as have two Whole Foods Market employees — one near Boston, Massachusetts and one in Portland, Oregon.
The news stirred a fresh wave of outrage against Amazon for its treatment of warehouse employees — especially during the coronavirus pandemic. The company has come under fire for the safety measure it puts in place to protect workers from infection, and for its efforts to discourage employees from organizing, protesting and unionizing.
Employees at warehouses across the country have spoken out against Amazon's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and demanded greater protections. One of the most famous of these demonstrations came out of the Staten Island facility, led by a man named Christian Smalls. Smalls was fired shortly after, and the New York Attorney General's office now says that the company may have violated whistle-blower protection laws by letting him go.
Amazon has stated that Smalls was fired for failing to adhere to social distancing practices in the workplace. However, Vice obtained an internal memo from the company detailing a plan to smear Smalls and discredit his demonstration.
Other employees who have been fired recently believe it was because of their support for or involvement in organizing efforts, which have not been in vain. Following mass walkouts in late March, Amazon made a series of changes to warehouse processes for increased protection against COVID-19. The company also committed to spending $4 billion on its response to the pandemic. Workers reportedly say that safety precautions are still inefficient, and they clash with the quotas that they must meet if they want to keep their jobs.
Turmoil over warehouse conditions is not confined to the workers themselves, either. On April 29, Amazon Web Services Vice President and senior engineer Tim Bray made a lengthy blog post, explaining that he had quit his job in protest of the treatment of warehouse workers — particularly the ones who had spoken up and been conspicuously fired. Bray wrote that "remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised."